I spent a few months in Peru this summer, and although that still doesn’t mean I’m an expert, it does mean that I can offer some pretty good advice to anyone that might be heading over that way in the near future. Hope it helps!
DON’T buy a plane ticket from Cusco to Lima in advance.
We found ourselves super close to Lima on various occasions when we went travelling. However, we always had to return back to Cusco as that’s where we were based/had return flights from. I would recommend that you plan your journey in advance so that you either travel south down Peru and end in Cusco or travel north up Peru and end in Lima rather than doing what we did and darting all over the place!
DON’T go alone to bars/clubs.
When we were in Huacachina we were woken up at 4am to the sound of a man trying to force his way into our room after our friend went to a bar alone and was followed home by him – stay on guard and just be sensible!
DON’T let taxi drivers rip you off.
Always negotiate your fare before you get in the cab. They will always try to charge you more if they can tell that you’re a tourist, so make sure you don´t pay more than 5 soles for a location out of town, and 3 soles for a location in town.
DON’T pay the money for Saksaywaman.
The tourist charge to see these ruins is 70 soles, however when we went horse riding and hiked up to Christo Blanco the ruins were clearly visible from some of the free viewpoints. Just read your guidebook/the internet, clue up on the facts and admire them for free rather than hiring a tour guide to see them up close.
DON’T bother with the paid museums.
There are a ton of museums in Cusco and although some of them are free, others have an entry price. Although it might seem like a ‘must do’ you’ll find that they aren’t worth the money. We visited the Inca Museum which we paid 10 soles for, only to find ourselves staring at (sort of boring) Incan objects that had no explanation – not so useful. Save the money for more adventurous things and stick to the free stuff!
DON’T eat out all of the time.
If your hostel has a kitchen then take advantage of it. I had some amazing meals that cost 5 soles purely because we all chipped in, bought food from the local market and cooked it ourselves. It’ll save you money AND will be 10x healthier/more authentic. Win-win situation really!
DON’T buy a peruvian sim card.
Some people consider being able to text and call non-stop a necessity but you don’t have to splurge on a new sim card if you don’t want to. There’s tons of internet cafés and a lot of Wi-Fi available (I even resorted to sitting on a street corner and stealing it from local restaurants), plus you might find that your home contract message rates are acceptable for the occasional text or call. But basically, communication is pretty easy here – have no fear.
DON’T take photos with llamas/dressed up incas.
They will charge you a fortune for taking the picture. One of my friends had to pay 40 soles for a picture with a lamb – and she was targeted purely because she was a white, blonde tourist! These tourist cons aren’t uncommon, so keep an eye out. There’ll be plenty of time to dress up and see llamas for free outside of the town centre.
DON’T touch the stray dogs.
This is a given really. Even if you’ve had the rabies vaccination you’re still not safe, so it’s best to just steer clear completely!
DON’T get hooked on the wifi.
It’s easy to find yourself glued to your phone in Peru as there is literally Wi-Fi EVERYWHERE! I would personally recommend leaving your phone locked away in your room some days if possible, or on aeroplane mode if you want it as a picture taking device. By all means, Skype your family and do buzzfeed quizzes when you have some spare time in the evening but don’t forget that you’re in a beautiful country with tons of things to do and tons of exciting people to meet.
DON’T pack uneccessary things.
You won’t need your straighteners or your hairspray or your nail varnish collection or your designer jeans purely because fashion goes out of the window here. The locals dress in basic clothing and on a night out it’s not surprising to see people in sweatpants, wooly socks and coats! You’ll still manage to have a good time without all your usual luxuries, and your backpack will be way lighter – bonus!
DO bring comfortable footwear.
There’s a lot of walking/hiking to be done pretty much everywhere in Peru, whether you’re climbing up the sand dunes in Huacachina, the cobbled uphill streets in Cusco or the endless stairs of the inca trail in Machu Picchu – a sturdy pair of shoes is a must.
DO take your time with weekend trips.
One of my major regrets is not staying longer in Huacachina, it was my favourite place in Peru! On the plus side, I’m so glad to have spent a full weekend in Lake Titicaca (a lot of people regret the one day tour) and a full week in Arequipa (everyone always wants to go back there) – so definitely give yourself time to enjoy everything that Peru has to offer!
DO travel on overnight buses.
They’re ridiculously cheap and you can save on a nights hostel stay whilst you travel. You can get pretty much anywhere in Peru on a bus, just head to the local Terminal Terrestre to bargain with different companies until you find the perfect ticket for you! But make sure to keep your belongings close to you at ALL times, as theft is extremely common.
DO book a trek to Machu Picchu.
There’s so many one day options to just hop on a train, see the ruins and come home but I think you get a much better experience if you do a 3, 4 or even 5 day hike/bus/bike/train combination. Of course, physical fitness comes into the equation but me and Vicki managed to cater our trek to our abilities and so it’s definitely do-able whether you’re the person that runs marathons or the person that gets out of breath on an escalator.
BONUS TIP – I’ve said this before, but don’t book Machu Picchu in advance. It’s very expensive online through US and UK companies so it’s much better off to just arrive and talk to different Peruvian tour companies to find the right trek and price for you.
DO try and get the most out of your tours.
Quadbiking, ziplining, white water rafting, hot spring spa breaks, horseback riding are all super fun things to do and I would recommend them all completely. However, I found that I wasted money by not including them into my visits to historical sites and doing them separately instead. For example, we visited Maras-Moray on foot, but there were options to include bicycle tours and ATV adventures which we weren’t aware of. If you’re a real adrenaline seeker, then make sure to include the white water rafting and ziplining into your Machu Picchu trek – it works out cheaper in the long run!
DO get the local bus.
The transport system here is actually pretty good and extremely cheap! It’s not common amongst tourists, so it actually feels like a true peruvian experience when you’re crammed into one of the buses with the locals. Although they aren’t the most comfortable mode of transport they come in handy if you’re trying to get somewhere on a budget.
DO dress appropriately.
Firstly, make sure you know the climate of where you’re going. When we were on the coast in Ica, we were fine in a tshirt and leggings but in Cusco we needed a huge coat, gloves and scarf. I had to buy 2 more jumpers while I was here because it was so cold at night, so save some money and be prepared in advance!
Secondly, respect the culture. Although it’s becoming more common to see short shorts and vest tops in Peru due to the increasing number of tourists, it’s still important to dress modestly. Although it’s not right, men here can sometimes assume that showing skin means something more than just a fashion statement and there are also traditionally religious people that don’t condone certain dress codes – just be smart!
Oh and I wouldn’t recommend flip flops on the cobbled streets of Cusco – you will eventually fall over/slip/get cut by glass. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉
DO bring sunscreen.
I said it was cold here but don’t let that confuse you – the sun is bloody strong! My lips burnt and cracked within the first 24 hours I was here and other people have burnt shoulders/faces, so be prepared.
DO take your immigration card everywhere.
Me and Vicki made this mistake too many times but the little slip of paper you get when entering the country proves to be super important. It saves you from paying tax at hostels and a lot of places will ask to see it alongside your passport, so be sensible – carry it everywhere!
DO step out of your comfort zone.
Try eating at places other than McDonalds, try speaking to the locals, do things that scare you (bungee jumping and paragliding are options!), don’t spend all of your time talking in english and hanging out at english bars and definitely do embrace the culture – salsa lessons, try traditional peruvian clothing, go to the street festivals!
DO make the most of the transport links to surrounding countries.
We were based in Cusco for our entire 2 months but if you’re lucky enough to be travelling without commitment anywhere for a long period of time, then definitely make use of the cheap transport from country to country. There are daily buses from Peru to Ecuador and Bolivia. Plus, with Chile and Brazil on the border too you could get a much better deal on flights booking them last minute – get exploring! Google ‘Peru Hop‘ for more ideas.
DO buy in bulk.
You can’t drink the tap water here but it’s important to stay hydrated, which means you can end up with the majority of your cash being spent on bottled water. If you want to save some money, buy water in the HUGE bottles. You can get 7L bottles for just 8 soles, which works out a million times cheaper in the long run. This rule also applies to food, clothes and pretty much anything – you’ll always get a better deal buying more than one of something.
DO bring a money belt or small bag.
Petty theft is a problem in Peru, so sometimes backpacks aren’t the best thing (I caught someone unzipping my backpack twice in Cusco!). This is why it’s a good idea to keep your valuables close to you at all times, plus you won’t always want to lug a bag round.
DO bargain – for everything!
You’d be surprised what you can knock the price down for here – Bus tickets, food, tours, taxi fares, souvenirs. If the price is too high, try a lower one. If they say no, walk away and find another option and if they say yes then you’ve saved yourself some money.
DO be careful with food.
Even though I’m probably the worst example as I use the tap water and eat pretty much anything, it is important to watch your health here. So many travellers get sick here due to the change in environment – parasites, food poisoning, bacteria etc etc. I was even stupid enough to get dehydrated one day, so just be sensible!
DO try Sublime.
It’s the best chocolate in Peru (fact, not opinion), so load up on the ice creams and the variety of chocolate bars because they’re way cheaper than the American brand sweets sold here!
DO be money aware.
It’s true that everything is RIDICULOUSLY cheap here, 5 soles is the equivalent of £1 or $2 – so it’s easy to get persuaded into buying pretty much everything and splashing out on food/drinks and then the next morning you find yourself wondering where that 100 soles note disappeared to… Not only that, but the exchange rate is terrible. I lost so much money every time I withdrew some from my travel card – it cost me almost $10 per transaction! So keep that in mind too, and make sure to keep an eye on your account.
DO learn some Spanish.
Although you probably could find some English speaking people here, they are most likely going to be travellers from your own country, which is GREAT but if you really want to get to grips with the culture and immerse yourself in Peruvian life then clue up on some basic Spanish phrases! Plus, vendors and tour companies are less likely to rip you off if you can bargain/communicate in Spanish.
DO go with an open mind.
Of course you’ll experience culture shock in South America but that shouldn’t be a bad thing! You need to be prepared to embrace the culture and make the most of everything. The hygiene standards are poorer, there are different rules regarding what is polite/appropriate, religion is important, people get married and have children a lot younger, things never run on time, schools teach differently and even the McDonalds Big Mac is flavoured differently! Don’t try and put a ‘western footprint’ on things – be patient and try new things!
DO whatever the hell makes you happy!
Ask yourself what you want to get out of your experience, you don’t have to follow the crowd and go where everyone else is going. Really, there is no right or wrong way to travel or see a country. These are all just suggestions, so the plain and simple rule is: As long as you’re happy, you’re doing it right!